Monday, August 26, 2013

A Place at the Table

Luke 13:22-30 We are inundated—and too often influenced-- by the religious voices around us:  TV preachers, friends and family members, and media personalities.  Let there be no doubt, by their words they intend to teach us--to shape our thinking-- on the eternally important questions of:  who is God and how can I know him and have a life with him. 
            But God did not leave us to the opinions of men when it comes to knowing the answers to these questions.  Instead, he sent his Son to teach us the truth.  The Bible says:
Jesus went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem.

            This is what Jesus came to do:  to teach us the truth about God and our life with him by leading us to Jerusalem—to the place of the cross and the empty tomb where our questions about life with God, and forgiveness, and eternal life are answered in Christ’s death and resurrection. 
God does not want a single person here be confused by the voices of the world that would mislead us.  He doesn’t want us to be deceived by our own flesh.  God wants everyone to know the answers these questions.  That is why he sent us Son to teach us the truth about how to get to heaven.  The bible says that:  Someone said to Jesus, "Lord, will those who are saved be few?"
            Jesus really never does answer this person’s question (about how many will be saved) because that is Jesus’ business, not ours--and the way that Lord dealt with this question is a helpful reminder that the Lord teaches us what he wants us to know—not necessarily everything that we want to know. 
Instead, he answers the question in such a way that WE CAN BE SAVED by knowing the answer he does give.  That is always his priority:  not to deal with our speculation --but to provide for our salvation.  He answers the salvation question this way:  "Strive to enter through the narrow door.  
The Lord pictures heaven as a huge house with just one entrance:  a narrow door that is Jesus Christ!  He is not only the teacher sent by God to instruct us concerning salvation—he IS our salvation—he is the narrow door to heaven. 
In stark contrast to all of those who would have us believe that there are many paths to God, the Father’s heaven-sent teacher tells us that there is just one way:  Jesus. 
He alone has atoned for the sins of the world by his death on the cross.  He alone has risen from the dead destroying the power of the grave.  He alone has fulfilled all righteousness by his holy life—he alone is the one mediator between God and man-- and no one—no one—will come to the Father and enter into heaven except by him. 
Jesus is the narrow door to heaven—but we are the ones who have to enter in.  How do we enter through that narrow door?  It is by faith.  Jesus said:  “this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life.” 
Jesus says that we are to STRIVE to do this.  We strive for all kinds of things in life—money and success and recognition and good marks--but those things will not save us-- and to have them all and not have Christ is to have less than nothing.  STRIVE to enter through the narrow door because many will fail.  Jesus says:
For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.  When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, open to us,' then he will answer you, 'I do not know where you come from.' 
            Why will so many fail to enter by the narrow door and be saved?  It is not because they do not know it is there (they do!).  It is not because they have not heard how they are to enter it (they have!).  It is because they will have waited too long. 
For all who are living and breathing on the earth at this moment—there is a remarkable day of grace that God has given to us today—a day when the door to heaven stands wide open to all who will enter in by faith in Jesus.  But Jesus also warns us that there will come a day when the door will be closed—never to be opened again. 
The Lord’s words call to mind the days of Noah when there was ample opportunity for everyone who heard the preaching of Noah to take it to heart—repent of their sins—trust in God’s promised deliverance-- and enter in through door of the ark of salvation.  Plenty of time right up until there was no more time-- and door to the ark was closed and the judgment of Almighty God began to fall. 
In the same way today, Jesus points the world to the open, narrow door of eternal life and invites all people to come inside-- but he also warns us that the door will one day close—after which no one will be able to enter.  Jesus warns us:
 Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.' 
            The people who saw Jesus’ miracles—the people who heard his teaching—the people who were fed by him-- numbered in the tens of thousands.  But not all of them believed in him and not all would be saved simply because they were familiar with him.  Then and now:  Familiarity is not enough—FAITH is what’s needed.
There are all kinds of people who are familiar with the story of Jesus—but that is not enough.  There are all kinds of people who are familiar with the things of the church--but that is not enough. There are all kinds of people who have family members who are Christians-- but that is not enough.  YOU must believe in Jesus Christ.
It is necessary to know Christ as your Lord and Savior to be known by him on the Last Day.  It is necessary to confess his saving name if he is to confess your name before his Father in heaven.  On that day, Jesus will say to those who have not believed in him:   
“…I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!' 
            Jesus is not saying that on the Last Day that he will somehow lack the omniscience to know those who have rejected him.  Just the opposite is true—he knows them better than they could ever know themselves—every ugly, sinful detail. 
The kind of knowledge that Jesus is talking about is the intimate knowledge that exists between a husband and wife in a love relationship.  In effect Jesus says to all those who have not entered by the narrow door:  “we’ve never had a relationship and now it is too late to have a life with me because you are evil and will remain so forever”.
We tend to think of people being evil on the basis of what they do or don’t do—and certainly there is some truth in that.  But the measure of Jesus’ judgment on the last day is whether or not we have entered through the narrow door by faith in him-- or rejected him and remained outside.  That is the evil that damns! 
It’s important for us to remember—that no matter who “good’ we think we are—no matter how “good” we think someone else might be—the judgment of Christ is that apart from faith in him-- individuals are evil and can never live with him in heaven and instead are sent by him to hell.  Jesus says that:    
In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 
            Jesus plainly taught that hell is real- and it is terrible- and it is eternal—and utterly unnecessary because there is a way of salvation.  The prophets and patriarchs all knew that there was one way of salvation which is the narrow door of faith in God’s Messiah—a door that is open wide to all people.  Jesus says:
People will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."
            God wants everyone to have a place at his table.  For the Jews this was a shock.  They thought that simply by being Jews they would be saved—but they were wrong.  Yes—they had every advantage: they had the temple and the Torah and circumcision and sacrifice—but apart from faith in Christ these advantages would not save them.
Others of that day had none of these things—no natural advantage owing to their birth among Jews—they were Gentiles from all over the world-- but they believed in Jesus when he promised that through faith in him they would be saved—and they took their place in the kingdom of God.  The first, last—and some of the last, first.
The same thing is still true today.  There are people born into Christian families and raised in the Church—people who have every advantage—and yet they reject Christ.  Others have no such advantage—they were born to unbelievers and were brought up that way—and yet by God’s grace they heard Christ preached and believed in him and entered through the narrow door to eternal life.  The first, last—and some of the last, first.
To those who have the advantage of having grown up in the church, Jesus says: use it!  Put your faith in me and be saved.  To those who had no such advantage Jesus says the same:  today is the day of grace that God has provided for you to enter through the narrow door and take your place in the Lamb’s great eternal feast.  May God grant us all the faith to enter into eternal life by the narrow door of Christ!  Amen. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

C Proper 17     Pentecost 15     September 1, 2013

Lessons for Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proverbs 25:2-10 ~ From honor in a king’s presence to power in court, mercy is better than justice.
Psalm 131 (antiphon: v. 2)
Hebrews 13:1-17 ~ Jesus has made us holy through His blood so we can afford to help those in need.
Luke 14:1-14 ~ Those who feel uncomfortable without clear rules also expect to gain respect by association.

GATHERING THE TEXTS: Let Brotherly Love Continue
King Solomon knew his job: to search out matters and make decision based on truth and justice; but he also recognized that in our relations with God, we do better to rely on His mercy. We ought also deal with others in love and respect, rather than trying to gain prestige and power at their expense. We can “go outside the camp” and bear the reproach of the world as we reach out to those who are without honor and value in society. Jesus said rules don’t apply with the welfare of a child of God is at risk, and honor doesn’t come from avoiding the dishonored.

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Dear Lord Jesus, You stepped outside the walls to sacrifice Your life’s blood to make me worthy in God’s sight. Give me the courage and conviction to step to the side of those whose worth is little in the eyes of the world, that I may share the honor of Your love with them. Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: Our worth does not consist of honor and prestige in the world’s eyes, nor even of impressive accumulations or precious commodities of exchange. Rather we are worthy in God’s sight and holy through Jesus’ sacrifice. Those who are the least in society are still precious to God. We can afford to risk our position and our goods to care for those God cares for.

Lord, free us from the love of money; give
Us grace to share Your love with those in need.
For You have rescued us from death to live
With You, outside the gates, in word and deed. Amen.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: When we feel insecure, we look for clear-cut rules to guide our actions and define our relationships. We look for self-worth in our abilities and connections. We imagine that we, rather than God, define our place in life and determine our value. The good news is that God does indeed define our place and determine our worth, and He has done so based on His love for us, not our compliance with rules and our love of honor. Christ’s blood has made us holy in God’s sight so that we can afford to risk prestige and worth by reaching out to help those who have little or none of either in the eyes of the world.

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

C Proper 16  Pentecost 14   August 25, 2013

Lessons for Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 66:18–23 ~ God will gather His people from all nations into a new heaven and new earth.
Psalm 50:1–15 (Antiphon: Psalm 50:23)
Hebrews 12:4–24 (25–29) ~ God disciplines His children to yield the fruit of righteousness in their lives.
Luke 13:22–30 ~ Jesus taught that many will seek to enter the kingdom, but will reject His invitation.

GATHERING THE TEXTS: God's Real, Holy Future
In Christ our Lord, God has promised us a future that is real and holy. Our lessons today assure us that heaven is no "pie in the sky by and by". It is as real as the sacrifices that were offered in the temple on Mount Zion. It is no mundane, "realistic expectation". It is as holy as the glory of the Lord God of heaven and earth. If we belittle this hope or reject God's promise, the door will be closed; we will be locked outside. But when we know the King and the blood of his new covenant, God's real, holy future is ours!

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord God of all nations, thank you for your gracious love in Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior. Help me reach out to people of every tribe and nation, of every community and class, to share with them the promise of your presence and the hope of your glory. Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: Learning to trust and depend on God shows itself in how we use the material blessings he has placed into our hands. We learn to extend God’s grace through our patient care and assistance to those in need, never failing to speak the Word of God which propels the loving deed.

Lord, help us strive for peace with everyone,
And learn to trust You always, and rejoice,
Employ these gifts to lead the wayward ones
That they may know Your love and hear Your voice. Amen.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: “He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored.” (Proverbs 13:18 NIV) We are inclined to protest suffering in our lives instead of learning lessons of patience and dependence on God’s mercy. When we are too self-assured to receive instruction, we miss the invitation to Christ’s kingdom; the Master says, “I do not know where you come from.” God draws us in from all the nations of the earth with His grace through Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, whose blood speaks us righteous.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Divine Dividing Line

Luke 12:49-53 Isaiah called him the Prince of Peace.  The angels proclaimed peace on earth at his birth.  St. Paul simply said: he is our peace.  At yet we hear Jesus tells us that he did not come to bring peace but division.  And so is it division or peace he brings?
Throughout his earthly ministry this contrast was present.  Simeon and Anna rejoiced in their Savior’s birth but Herod was enraged.  Zacchaeus was thrilled to know that his lifetime of sin was forgiven but the Pharisees grumbled about the wrong kind of people coming to God.  At the cross a Roman soldier came to faith and a thief entered paradise while the religious leaders used that last opportunity to mock and ridicule the Savior.
And so who was right?  Isaiah and the angels and Paul—or Jesus?  Did the Savior come to bring peace or did he come to cast the fire of judgment?  The answer to that question is “yes” and it cannot help but be so for Jesus is the Divine Dividing Line that cuts through the entire world full of people—through every nation and tribe—and yes, even through our families.
Every person in the world stands on one side of this Divine Dividing Line or the other.  On one side is peace and unity where Jesus Christ is confessed as Lord and Savior.  On the other side is judgment and division where he is rejected. 
There is no middle ground.  There is no gray area.  There are no neutral parties.  Jesus says:  “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!  Throughout the Bible judgment is likened to fire and while we may not think of Jesus primarily as a Judge—or at least not until his seconding coming—he most certainly is a judge now and in  eternity. 
Every person- in this world- at this moment stands under his judgment.  You are either a child of God, declared right in his sight through faith in Jesus or you are God’s enemy, an object of his wrath, and a future inhabitant of hell.  Despite all of our human differences-gender, language, ethnicity, status—there are only two different kinds of people in this world:  disciples of Jesus or enemies of the cross.  It cannot be otherwise. 
The claim of our Lord Jesus Christ- and by extension, the church- is exclusive.  Jesus said of himself that whoever believed in him would be saved and that he was the way and the truth and the life and that no one could come to the Father apart from him.  His apostles said that there is salvation in no one else for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we can be saved.  This is the Divine Dividing Line that separates all people.
We live in a religiously pluralistic culture that rejects this exclusive claim of Christ and his people.  They call it harsh and unloving and believe it to be judgmental and divisive.  Let’s be clear:  there is a judgment being made and there is a division that results but the call of Christ to come to him and be saved is anything but harsh and unloving. 
It is mercy and love that compelled Jesus to go to the cross and die for all.  He said:  I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!  Once when the disciples are arguing about who was going to have the best place in the kingdom Jesus asked them:  Are you able to be baptized with the baptism I am about to undergo?  In other words, are you willing to suffer as I am about to suffer? 
This is the baptism he is talking about in these verses—his suffering and death on the cross in which we are baptized in the waters of holy Baptism—the sacrifice of his own life that transforms our life.  He desired noting other than to go to the cross bearing the sins of the world.
The call of our Lord Jesus Christ to come and be saved is spoken from the cross to every person in the world.  Yes, salvation is exclusively found in Jesus Christ but that salvation excludes no one and is open to all.  Jesus said that God so loved the WORLD that he sent his one and only Son, that WHOEVER believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 
That there are still those who are outside of God’s kingdom—that there are those who will suffer eternally in the fires of hell--that there are those who are God’s enemies-- is not the fault of Jesus but it is because they have rejected the peace that is only found in Jesus. 
They are responsible for their lost condition.  Jesus says:  Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. The response of our flesh and the world to the question of Jesus:  do you think that I have come to give peace on earth is “yes”!  That is exactly what we want. 
The world and our flesh want that kind of earthly peace where there are happy families and peaceful nations and prosperous economies irrespective of a life with God.  Earthly peace apart from God is an old, old problem.  It was for the people of Jeremiah’s day who were only too glad to listen to prophets who promised them peace despite their sins.  It was a problem for the disciples who were only too glad to confess Jesus to be the Messiah but reject his mission that would go to the cross. 
And it is still a problem in our day when we go out of our way to white-wash and explain away the very real differences between those who confess the faith and morals of Christ and the church and those who reject them.
There will be a day of earthly peace and plenty when the lion lays down with the lamb and the weapons of war and transformed into implements of peace but that day will come only through the cross and only for those who find in Jesus their peace.  Until that day there will be a division between those who follow Jesus and those who don’t—a line that can separate those closest to us in our families.  Jesus said:
From now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
            Over the last several weeks, the words of Jesus have dealt with obeying the First Commandment by fearing, trusting, and loving God above all else.
            The parable of the rich fool is about trusting God above all else—including our hard work and savings.  Last week we heard Jesus tell us that anxiety, worry, and fear have no place in the life of a child of God and this week we hear Jesus talk about our first love—that we are to love God above every other love—even over our own family.  Perhaps this is hardest of all!
            We love our spouse and we love our kids and it is very difficult to conceive of a love that is greater than these loves.  But there is one- and must be one- and that is our love for God.
It does us no good to measure our feelings to determine whether our love for our family and our love for God is rightly ordered —what we have to do is look at where our loyalty lies.
Are we willing to excuse the sins of those closest to us because we treasure them more than God?  Are we willing to remain silent when God’s ways are questioned by those we love?  Are we willing to construct some other way of salvation for our loved ones who reject Jesus?  If we are willing to do these things—we do not love God first.
Our love and loyalty to God must come before every other human love and loyalty and yet when we do that—there can be division in our families where there ought to be unity.
God wants us to honor our father and our mother.  He wants us to love our children.  He wants us to cherish our spouses.  Our homes and families ought to be little pictures of the love and unity that we will enjoy in heaven.  But that is not always the case for Christians whose family member has abandoned Christ and his ways. 
What we can do in those situations is love them and pray for them.  What we may not do is excuse their sin or lack of faith or deny the Divine Dividing Line that is becoming clearer each day in the signs of the time.  Jesus said:
“When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens.  You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
The signs of the times are all around us if we will only see them for what they are.  In 1973 it became legal in this country for parents to murder their unborn children.  More and more states have legalized homosexual marriage.  Entire denominations have embraced a moral stance that would be unrecognizable to the previous two thousand years of the Christian church.  Average church attendance in our country has dropped from 40% to 17%.  Those who speak for traditional Christianity are called hateful and intolerant.
These signs are not progress.  They are not equal protection under the law.  They are not the Holy Spirit doing a new thing as one pastor here in town said they were.  They are clear signs that there is a division between those who follow Christ and those who do not.
In the past it was possible for the well-meaning but mis-guided Christian to say that his neighbor who never worshipped was really a Christian deep down inside and that his friend who went to the church that ordains women and homosexuals was not so different than himself and that the co-worker who believed in evolution and abortion essentially saw the world the same way as he did.  That is not possible anymore! 
The dividing line between those who believe in Christ and walk in his ways- and those who do not- is becoming clearer each day-- and the animosity and distance between those two groups is also growing each day.
Jesus came to bring peace but that peace comes through the cross which separates the family of man into those who are being saved through faith and those who reject his peace.  May God grant us his grace to found on the right side!  Amen.